Sermon Series: Lord, I want to be better

Acts 4:31-35

31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. 32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

You and I can get just about anything we want from God, but we have to be willing to ask for what we want. Asking for what we want presumes you and I know what we want. A distinction needs to be made between a desire and a want. Desires seek to be satisfied, and wants need to be fulfilled. Desires are externally triggered, and wants are internally awakened. I desire ice cream because I have seen it and it looks good. I want to preach because something inside of me informs me that this is what I was created to do. The other side of this is how are we going to use what we get? After we have received what we ask for, who will be the primary beneficiary of our request? Furthermore, how will God be glorified or blessed by our acquisition?

Regardless whether we have a want or a desire we are instructed throughout the Scriptures to express all things to God. Prayer is the means by which we communicate our wants and desires to God. The Bible says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” We should never be afraid to tell God what we want or desire. In fact, if you and I experience any trepidation in approaching God with our wants or desires perhaps that is an indication that whatever we want or desire may not be what we need. It could be a message from God that the thing we have set our sights on is not beneficial to our overall wellbeing. We might derive some degree of pleasure from it, but we will also experience some discomfort and pain. It may be a sign that we should rethink and re-evaluate whether or not we want to place that order.

Prayer is not a one-way street. Prayer is not you and I doing all of the talking and God does all of the listening. There are four components to communication, a sender, a message, a receiver and a response. The sender sends a message, the receiver receives the message, and the receiver offers a response, even if it is just an acknowledgment that the message has been received. After you and I have made our requests to God, we need to wait for God’s response. God always provides a response. Since God is not like us, God does not necessarily respond to our requests in ways we expect or in the manner we think He should. Therefore, you and I need to be open to the various ways God chooses to respond to our petitions. If you ask me a question I will give you an answer, if I can. If we ask God a question God may give us a situation to work out our question. If we ask God for qualities like patience and tolerance, God gives us opportunities to develop those qualities. The bottom line is, prayer is the first step to obtaining what we want from God.
“After they prayed,” the Bible says the place where they were meeting was shaken. Some believe that prayer changes God. There are those who think that through the medium and channel of prayer they can sway God. Prayer does not change God, because God is immutable, God does not change. “He is the same yesterday, today, and forever more.” Two by-products of prayer are a changed environment and people. When you and I invoke or call upon God and God personally enters our environment there will be a noticeable change in our surroundings. Since no environment is able to contain God, the people in that environment absorb God’s presence. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” The presence of God was too much for the place where they were, so the people in that place became vessels that God occupied.

If I take a sponge or a dishcloth and submerge it in a sink filled with water, the sponge or dishcloth will absorb the water until it reaches its saturation level or until it is filled. While the object is submerged you cannot tell it is being filled because it is not visibly seen. We don’t see the filling we experience the filling of God’s spirit. After the sponge or dishcloth has been filled it is ready to be used. “And they spoke the word of God boldly.” A dry sponge is very limited in what it can do and accomplish. However, a saturated sponge is equipped to do more things and reach more places. When you and I are filled with the Holy Spirit, the presence of God, we are equipped by God to fulfill the purposes of God. We don’t have to worry about our personal shortcomings and inadequacies because we possess the presence of God and His power. We do not have to be afraid about what to say because the presence of God in us will speak through and for us. When you and I live and operate in the power of God’s indwelling presence, there is no need to be concerned about what we cannot do, because “Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.” In the power of God’s indwelling presence we can do all things through Him that strengthens us. A by-product of God’s indwelling presence is boldness.

It is difficult to get anywhere when you are empty. A Mercedes may be a high performance car, but if it has no gas in it, it cannot perform. The more fuel we put into a vehicle the farther the vehicle can go. Likewise, you and I can go farther and accomplish more when we are full. The filling of the Holy Spirit took the members of this group to an entirely different level in their faith and walk with the Lord. The things they were able to accomplish serves as an example of the power of Christ manifested in the life of the believer through the filling and indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

So what did the filling actually do for them?

1. It brought them together – “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” This alone is an absolutely incredible feat. When we consider that this group was made up of Jews, Gentiles, rich and poor, and men and women. These were people who under normal conditions would not mix and had very little in common. They were people who came from different walks and held different views of life. Yet, the Spirit of Christ in them moved them to tear down the walls of separation that existed and instead build bridges between them.

2. They became channels instead of containers – “They shared everything they had.” A container waits for someone to put things into it and holds on to what is inside until it can no longer hold anything, and then you put a lid on it and put it in a closet and forget it is there. Channels funnel whatever goes into them and thus things flow freely through them. Channels are constantly receiving because they release what comes in to keep the flow going.

3. They experienced a multiplication of God’s grace – “And much grace was upon them all.” Here’s what we need to know about God’s grace – God’s grace does for you and I what we cannot do for ourselves. The apostles gave witness to the reality and power of Jesus’ resurrection. The more they spoke about it, the more God’s grace was released on them and those who listened to them. While we cannot earn God’s grace there some things we can do to experience more of God’s grace. We need to ask ourselves, what are we doing with the grace we have already received? A) Do we acknowledge it – do you and I personally recognize what God is doing and has done in our lives? B) Do we share it – Have we told at least one other person about what God in Christ has done for us, impacting others and thereby sharing God’s grace? C) Do we celebrate the grace of God in our lives – Do we give God the glory by saying thank you Lord for the things God is doing or has done that we have not deserved? If you and I are not doing anything with the grace we have already received, why should God give us more?

4. They found their other streams – “For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” What if you and I viewed our lives as if they were like the Garden of Eden? There were four streams that flowed from the Garden of Eden, the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates. Each of these streams watered the lands surrounding Eden. God did not create us to be dependent upon anything other than Him. The Bible says they had “lands” and “houses.” Each of these terms is plural. That means they had more than one stream watering their lives. Within each of us God has placed gifts and talents and God expects us to use those gifts and talents not just for His glory, but also to water our lives. As long as we are relying on one stream, if that stream ever gets cut off we are finished. However, when we have other streams it does not matter if one gets cut off because we have others that can water and provide for our needs. In addition, when you and I find our other streams we are in a better position to honor our commitment to God and God’s kingdom. In other words, there will be enough for everyone.

These were people who lived their lives in the indwelling power of Christ and the result was they discovered another level of anointing (the release of God’s power within them) that propelled them to do and accomplish what they could never have accomplished operating in their own power. God wants to take you and I to another level. The question is, do we want to go to another level or are we satisfied right where we are now? If we want to go to another level then we need to do what these folks did, they prayed, they were filled, and they lived their lives in the power of the resurrected Christ.

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